Journalist and author Eleanor Aldridge’s new book, Paris: A Curious Traveler’s Guide, offers much to both first-time visitors and those who have made many visits to the City of Love. Aldridge visited Paris countless times before moving there to work as a journalist. She knows her city well. Her book takes us inside the city’s quartiers, and not just those visited most often by tourists. She shares her favorite city parks, museums and galleries, places to eat, drink, shop, and people-watch. She presents some of her favorite day trips from the city. Her guidebook does all of this with a commitment to share contemporary Paris.
Paris is one of the world’s most beautiful, romantic and lauded cities. It’s been too long since I’ve visited Paris, and interviewing Ms. Aldridge about her new guidebook definitely piqued my interest in making a return visit.
Keep a copy of Paris: A Curious Traveler’s Guide under your arm on your trip as yo visit the oh-so-famous sights as well as those of the vibrant and modern city it is today.
Contemporary Paris: Still the City of Love
Nancy Zaffaro: How did you first come to know and work in Paris?
Eleanor Aldridge: I first came to Paris as a kid on a French exchange, staying just outside the center with an impossibly chic eleven-year-old. It wasn’t until I co-wrote a budget travel guide to Europe in my early twenties that I really started to explore the city. I quickly fell in love. I came back every year without fail—eating, drinking and writing my way through long weekends—and always left with more restaurants on my wish list than I had time to visit. Initially, I moved here for five months on sabbatical, but quickly realized I wanted to stay. I’ve now lived here for nearly two years. My list of restaurants is still growing.
Inspiration for this New Guidebook to Contemporary Paris
Nancy: What inspired you to write, Paris: A Curious Traveler’s Guide?
Eleanor: The Paris most visitors experience is very different to how Parisians see their city. The real joy of a trip here isn’t in seeing the big sights but discovering a bit of Parisian life. I wanted to share the moments that kept me booking trips for so many years: shopping at outdoor food markets; losing afternoons exploring little-known galleries; solo lunches eaten at bar seats; mornings sipping coffees in the outer arrondissements; and discovering cocktail bars so passionate about French spirits they refuse to serve anything else.
There was no other guide for travelers who wanted to embrace contemporary Parisian culture—but also didn’t want to completely shun major museums and miss out on learning about the city’s history.
Deciding What to Include
Nancy: You offer a wide range of practical tips, including what to order at pâtisseries and speakeasies, how to book the best Airbnbs, and more. How did you decide what to include?
Eleanor: Paris: A Curious Traveler’s Guide is an insider’s guide free from pretension. That means plenty of practical tips for navigating a city (wrongly!) known for not always being welcoming. I wanted to demystify experiences that can be daunting, such as booking apartments, negotiating seemingly incomprehensible restaurant menus and ordering drinks when there’s no wine list. The book was written to be read before a trip as well as carried around.
A Paris Guidebook Useful for First-Time and Those Who Have Visited Before
Nancy: What does your book offer first-time visitors and those who have made multiple trips to the “city of love”?
Eleanor: Paris has evolved a lot in the last few years. For first-time visitors, there’s so much more to discover than the classic storybook experiences and the most-visited quartiers. My editor Róisín and I wanted the book to be accessible, with themed itineraries for those with limited time and neighborhood-by-neighborhood highlights spotlighting restaurants really worth visiting.
The structure of the guide also sprung from recommendations I was giving to friends who visit every few months. It’s packed with ideas for doing things a little bit differently—lesser-known artworks to see in the Pompidou, the best single-artist museums, where to go for walks on sunny days and where to find unusual souvenirs or the pioneers of the Parisian food scene.
Food in Paris: A Gastrome’s Delight
Nancy: Food, of course, is wonderful in Paris. What do you want your readers to know about what is new in the food scene in Paris?
Eleanor: The ritual of sitting down to eat is held sacred by the French, and tradition is paramount. That said, if you just stick to old-school restaurants you’ll miss out.
Thanks to the bistronomy movement, some of the city’s best chefs now cook at informal and affordable bistros, perhaps taking inspiration from Thai, Japanese and Middle-Eastern cuisines as well as French. Classic bistros have also made a comeback of late, dishing up hearty plats (entrées) like boeuf bourguignon and confit de canard in restored art deco dining rooms. Seek out a different atmosphere for every meal: joints with red-checked tablecloths represent just a tiny slice of the city’s food scene.
Let’s Talk Drink in Contemporary Paris
Nancy: You encourage your readers to discover natural wines. Why is this scene so significant in Paris?
Eleanor: Natural wine is the farm-to-table movement’s boozy companion, with an emphasis on organic viticulture, minimal intervention and small-scale production. Its popularity has completely transformed wine lists across Paris. Natural wines are expressive, uniquely reflective of where they were grown and sometimes unpredictable. Thanks to the passion of everyone who serves and drinks them, the scene is also a hell of a lot of fun.
Nancy: You also talk about the Parisian affinity for a before-dinner drink. What are some of your favorite places for an “apéro” in Paris?
Eleanor: Parisians eat late, so an apéro—an end-of-day drink with something to nibble around 6 p.m—is a must. The caviste-meets-bar Cave de Belleville out in the 19th arrondissement is a great spot to sample natural wines with a planche (cheese and charcuterie board). For a more quintessentially Parisian experience, watch the sun set over the pyramide at the Louvre then stake out one of the sidewalk tables to drink happy-hour cocktails en terrasse at Le Musset (you can’t go wrong with a kir: white wine and crème de cassis).
Paris: A Curious Traveler’s Guide
Nancy: Thanks so much for sharing your insights and your book!
Eleanor: Thank you!
- About the author: Eleanor Aldridge is a writer and editor based in Paris and the author of Paris: A Curious Traveler’s Guide. Find her on Instagram at @elliejaldridge.
- More books from Countryman Press.
- Paris: A Curious Traveler’s Guide, on Amazon
- On our site: Book Review: A Taste of Paris Shares Parisian Love of Food
- On our site: Book Review: The Streets of Paris by Susan Cahill
-Header author photo courtesy of Becca Gerbino. Paris photos courtesy of Eleanor Aldridge. Book cover courtesy Countryman Press.